It's funny how ominous the phrase "shadow box" sounds...like a place where secrets are kept.
But that's not how they started. Sailors used to believe it was bad luck if their shadows touched the land before they did. So an arriving sailor would encase medals and souvenirs and other memorabilia into a box to carry onto land. It was his shadow in that box, and in this way, it was protected.
When we were little, my room would occasionally become overrun with the stuff of childhood: a few too many used books, doll clothes left by the neighbor, trinkets and tags and little pieces of nature I tried so desperately to preserve. When it started to drive my mom up the wall, she'd sit on the bedroom floor with me, pile everything in the middle of the room, and begin the sorting: trash, donate, keep.
It's a habit that hasn't left me. I am almost always looking around our place with my trash-donate-keep glasses on.
Except when I'm looking at my shadow box.
Here is where I keep the stuff of my shadow, the stuff of childhood, the stuff that has no purpose but needs a place.
My mom recently donned her own trash-donate-keep glasses again. As my parents joyously anticipate retirement and a simpler old age, she is already paring things down, emptying the shadow boxes filled with the stuff of their lives together. On our last visit, my sister and I picked through all those things, finding memories in every nook. Soon, mini tea sets and china kittens will arrive at my front door in a cardboard box, and in my own shadow, I will find places for the things that have for so long been a part of our shadow.
They're only things, I guess. But they are things that will be held between chubby little fingers someday, just as they were held by so many chubby fingers in the past. And I will be glad to have them.